Lawn Care Basics: What to Do With Your Yard in the Winter
on Monday, September 9, 2019
Residential Property Tips
Winter lawn maintenance is different in the Mid-South. Your northern neighbors swap their lawn care equipment for shovels and snowblowers. But your lawn doesn’t sit under a blanket of snow for three months. And depending on the type of grass you have, it may go dormant or keep on growing.
You could sit the winter months out and step back from the breakneck lawn care schedule. But there are some critical steps for ensuring dormant grass and plants stay healthy and a growing lawn stays green.
Winterization for Dormant Lawns
By the end of fall, warm-season grasses lose their green. This doesn’t mean they’re dead. The temps in Tennessee and Alabama dip into the 40s and 50s. That’s not an ideal environment for growth, so your lawn goes dormant. It’s brown for now but its color will come back in a few months.
In the meantime, you can do a little yard work to ensure it’s set up for healthy growth in the spring.
1. Clean up leaves and debris.
The temperature change sends trees into dormancy too. The oaks, maples, dogwoods and other trees will start shedding their foliage in November. Mulch them up with your lawn tractor to put nutrients back into the soil for optimal spring growth. If you fall behind and the leaves pile up, use a rake, leaf blower, or shredder vac to clear everything away.
2. Mow one last time.
Bermudagrass, one of the most common grass types found in the region, stops growing when temperatures are consistently below 60 degrees. You may see growth tail off in November in Tennessee. Further south, in Alabama, your turf will keep going into December.
Before it gets too cold, raise the cutting height on your mower. You want your lawn to be at the top of the recommended height range to help insulate it from any extreme cold that may come in wintertime. Try to time your final mow for before the first frost. Or just stop mowing whenever your lawn stops growing.
3. Winterize your sprinklers.
You won’t be needing all that water in the winter. Sprinklers and hoses can be picked up, cleaned up, and stored in your garage or shed. Disconnect your hose before nighttime temps drop below 32 degrees to prevent any excess water from freezing into your spigots or pipes.
If you have an irrigation system, you have to prepare it for the colder weather — even though it doesn’t get as cold in the Mid-South. This is something a lot of homeowners forget about or neglect.
An unexpected freeze can turn the water waiting in your sprinklers into ice and crack the pipes. Turn off your irrigation system as soon as you stop mowing and have the water drained or blown out.
Winter Lawn Tips for Cool-Season Grasses
Come winter, Kentucky Bluegrass, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass are just getting started. A lawn overseeded with these cool-season grasses will stay green and active in the cold. So you have to stay on top of your lawn care in the winter months.
1. Feed your lawn with winter fertilizer.
Apply a winter lawn treatment in mid-November. It will feed your turf continuously until the spring rolls around. The best winter lawn feeds have timed-release nitrogen to prevent from burning the turf. Lightly water your lawn after applying fertilizer to help it get into the soil so the grass can absorb it.
2. Keep cutting the grass throughout winter.
Since cool-season grasses are just greening up, they need to be mowed regularly to prevent from getting too long. You can mow on the shorter end of the recommended grass length because there’s no heat to stress the turf. That means you’ll probably be mowing in the winter less than you would in the other seasons.
3. Turn down the sprinklers.
Watering should also be a regular part of your winter routine — just not to the same degree as summer. There’s more rain in the winter months in Tennessee and Alabama, which reduces the need for supplemental watering.
You could turn your irrigation system off entirely if your lawn is getting enough water. Otherwise, cut irrigation time in half once overnight temperatures are consistently in the 40s or lower. Again, be careful about watering when it gets below freezing. To be safe, you may want to clear out your irrigation system and keep it off all winter and instead use a sprinkler as needed.
Other Winter Yard Maintenance
Your lawn isn’t the only thing that needs love in the winter. Gardens, trees, bushes, and hedges also require care. It’s their dormant time too. Follow these annual maintenance and winter gardening tips to ensure everything comes back in good health next season.
1. Clear out overgrown and diseased plants.
Walk along your property, inspecting the plants in your landscaping, planter boxes, pots, and garden. Get rid of any diseased foliage and dispose of it properly to keep the infection far away from your healthy plants.
Perennial plants are in the winter slumber and can safely be trimmed back without damaging the plant. Prune brown leaves and ornamental grasses down to the ground to make room for new growth.
2. Prune your trees, flowering plants, and evergreen hedges.
By February, spring is just around the corner. Everything in your yard is preparing to green up and grow. It’s the perfect time to prune your trees. It’s still too cold for leaves to sprout and crowd your view of the branches. And once you make the cuts, there’s still plenty of time for the tree to heal its wounds without the threat of insects or disease.
The same isn’t true for every other bush or shrub in your landscaping. Only certain flowering shrubs and evergreen hedges should be pruned in dormancy. If your bushes blossom in the summer, late winter is the best time to prune them. Boxwoods and other evergreen bushes used in landscaping or as hedges should also be trimmed at this time.
3. Start planting.
Get an early start on spring by planting new bulbs, trees, and shrubs. New grass requires warmer temps to thrive but you can add plants to your garden or landscaping as long as the ground isn’t frozen. Or plant spring bulbs in containers if the ground is still too hard.
For new trees and shrubs, sprinkle a few inches of mulch at their base without crowding the plant. This will help your new plants absorb some much-needed moisture and be ready to grow in March.
Plant trees and shrubs. If the ground is not frozen, plant trees and shrubs in your landscape. Add 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the base, but keep mulch away from the trunk.
Your yard workload is lighter in the winter months. While you don’t have to shovel out of several feet of snow, there’s still plenty of work to be done around the property. Every season preps your grass and plants for success in the next one. Use your winter wisely so your yard will be full of the joys of spring.
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